I was just shopping for a few items at our local Market Basket, when a man in a black raincoat, glasses, jeans and a pair of hiking boots ran into me with his shopping cart in the dairy aisle. I was only carrying a hand basket, so there was nothing blocking his cart from running directly into my pelvis. No apology offered; the man simply backed his cart up six inches, and maneuvered around me while I stared at him in disbelief.
Several minutes later, I found myself behind the same man in a newly reorganized aisle that strangely featured diapers, baby food and soup. As we meandered toward the end of the aisle, and I quietly wondered why someone would choose to wear a black raincoat on a perfectly sunny, fifty-five degree day, he suddenly abandoned his cart in the middle of the aisle, completely blocking anybody from entering and exiting it, and walked away to browse the baked goods. I was reaching critical levels of frustration at that point, and was surprised at the amount of willpower I had to conjure up just to make sure I didn’t flip his cart over on its side, and send his inexplicably large collection of Dole chunked pineapple cans barreling down the waxed linoleum flooring in every direction. Instead, I bashed his cart with my hand basket as I approached, hoping the noise would force him to turn around, realize his folly, and openly vocalize his embarrassment, but he didn’t. He just continued to squeeze and occasionally smell loaves of bread. At that, I squeezed past his cart and walked away, drained and defeated.
At the checkout line, I noticed the man in the black raincoat was standing in the line over from mine, behind a young woman in sweat darkened workout clothes. As I waited for the customer in front of me to place the plastic grocery separator on the conveyor, I watched the man look at a crumpled handwritten list he’d pulled from his pocket, frantically search his cart, and then ask the sweaty woman to watch his cart while he grabbed one last item. The woman agreed, and he sped away. One would think a task like this should have taken less than a minute to complete, but no. After five minutes, the man was still nowhere to be seen, and the poor woman advancing the man’s cart through the line for him wore a facial expression that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than extreme disappointment in herself for having agreed to help a man who I was quickly coming to believe was the most socially unaware person in the continental United States.
The man eventually returned, and thanked the woman for holding his cart. She offered a meager half smile, and turned around to empty her items on the cart just as the store’s loudspeaker system crackled to life.
“Attention Market Basket shoppers. We were hoping you could help us celebrate the birthday of one of our associates. It was actually last week, but he was off on vacation, so we weren’t able to celebrate it until now. He’s in the office right now, so we might be able to get him to raise his hand so you can see him. No? OK. So at the count of three, if all of you could yell ‘happy birthday Barry’ at the same time, that would be amazing. Ready? One…”
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY BARRY!!!”
Everybody turned to look at the man who managed to screw up something as simple as a happy birthday salutation, and I wasn’t even remotely surprised to discover that it was my nemesis in the black raincoat, sporting the shit-eating grin of a man who genuinely believed he just did something very nice for a total stranger, even though he didn’t have to.